Public Institutions and Climate Change Mitigation: Why the government needs  data-driven technologies.

Aqil Radzi

Community Managerat BCN Smart Technologies

Biggest problems in Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu and its outskirts were hit with worrying flash floods after a severe rainstorm that lasted for over four hours. Hundreds of homes were flooded including the home of the Local Government and Housing Minister, Datuk Masidi Manjun. At that time, the Lintas fire station received numerous emergency calls from stranded motorists in the flash floods. This is not the only environmental incident that has happened this year. Recently floods had hit the upper Northern region of Sarawak due to severe rainfall. A temporary evacuation centre (PPS: Pusat Pemindahan Sementara) was set up in a school, SJK (C) Chung Hua Trusan in Lawas. Over 600 people from hundreds of households were affected. Climate change affects everyone irregardless of where we live and increasing incidents like these are normal in Malaysia. Malaysians in these affected regions continue to be familiar with Mother Nature in the form of seasonal monsoon rain, overflowing rivers and other probable future natural disasters, whether minor or major. One thing for sure is that the world will continue to experience dramatic climate change and taking into consideration all alternative solutions should no longer be neglected.

Until August 2018, Malaysia has experienced about 51 natural disaster events in the past 20 years, where over 200 people have lost their lives, over 3 million people were affected, and the disasters caused over RM5 billion in damages as reported by The Star. The years of neglect on issues of climate change has been taking its toll on the entire global population and the environment. There has been a notable increase in the number of extreme weather events. These are effects of economic activity that continue to burn excessive amounts of fossil fuels, thus emitting greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere which resulted in a rise in global average temperature of 1.2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. Despite Malaysia not being affected by extreme weather such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and forest fires, the country remains vulnerable to the threat of flash floods, haze, and numerous types of man-made pollution.

What is the government doing about this?

NADMA is the National Disaster Management Agency, established in 2015 under the Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia to undertake the responsibility of managing natural disasters from the National Security Council (MKN). In August 2021, NADMA ensured that the current Temporary Evacuation Centers (PPS) were sufficient in case any floods were to occur nationwide even though many of the locations gazetted were to be Vaccine Distribution Centers (PPV). Due to the pandemic, Deputy Director General of Operations Administration, Meor Ismail Meor Akim has said that almost 90% of the Evacuation Centers (PPS) will be set up through schools whereas Vaccine Centers (PPV) will make use of public facilities such as community halls and stadiums.

Southeast Asia is one of the planet’s most vulnerable regions to climate change
- IPCC report

Southeast Asia is as vulnerable as other regions to climate change, but for three particular reasons. The first reason is because most of the population and economic activities are along the coastline, which means they are exposed to physical impacts such as storms and rising sea levels. The second reason is the main economies are linked to natural resources and their respective industries from agriculture, forestry, and fisheries which will all suffer due to climatic conditions. The third reason mentioned is that the relative level of poverty in the region is considered high as compared to the world average, all the more difficult it is to combat climate change with several more factors to be considered.

The map above shows the level of Climate Change Vulnerability in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia’s Big Move

One measure Indonesia has taken to combat climate change  was that the government under President Joko Widodo, has decided to move the capital from Jakarta to the East Kalimantan Province, a project that is estimated to cost 466 trillion rupiah or RM134.7 trillion ringgit ($33 billion). Only 20% of the total project cost  will come from the state budget, while the remaining cost will be covered by foreign investors and private funding. The project has attracted notable figures such as Masayoshi Son (SoftBank CEO), Tony Blair (Former British Prime Minister), Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi). According to a report by Nikkei, the Indonesian Investment Authority (INA) mentioned that investment partnerships included international funds such as the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, UAE’s Foreign Investment Fund, US International Development Finance Corporation, as well as the Canadian Pension Fund and the Dutch Pension Fund. The INA has planned to manage a sovereign wealth fund to manage this project which is expected to stimulate the economy due to the hesitance of the private sector to invest during a pandemic. Chief Economist at Bank Central Asia, mentioned that Indonesia has a strong fiscal position compared to other countries to execute this project despite increasing debt-to-GDP ratio from 29% before the pandemic to a projected 41% this year. President Widodo has mentioned that the relocation was to address inequality, climate change, and relieving several burdens on Jakarta and Java as an island, which is home to more than half of the country’s entire population. It has been done before, in countries such as Australia, Brazil, and Myanmar have relocated their capital cities. However, other less drastic measures may be taken to address climate change, such as through international cooperation and foreign investment.

Why the government needs data driven solutions to solve problems in
Climate Change

The public authorities will need to invest in data-driven technologies which provide effective and sustainable solutions around climate change. Technology transfer is especially crucial for natural disaster management, infection control, and even environmental risk management. There are many countries from Europe to Latin America with said technologies and Malaysia would benefit tremendously in the long run from investing in such future solutions. There is much to be done in terms of preparation for future and expected natural disasters. For example, an article by EMIR Research mentioned how the Ministry of Works (KKR: Kementerian Kerja Raya) could improve the drainage system for those states too familiar with floods such as Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah, and Sarawak. Other public agencies such as Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) and Natural Disaster Management Agency (NADMA) are responsible for developing effective early-warning systems (EWS) and disaster risk-reduction strategies. KKR plays an important role in developing disaster-proof infrastructure in order to safeguard individuals and their communities against natural hazards. Another issue in relation to climate change is urbanisation. Often less-talked about, rapid urbanisation brings negative environmental effects such as Urban Heat Islands (UHI), where urban sprawls cause excessive heat during the summers and create milder winters. UHI has been a regional issue for Greater Kuala Lumpur, as studies show elevated air temperature is likely to be at highly dense urban areas as compared to the rural areas. Other problems include poor regional air quality with haze and pollution. In a report by Swiss Re Institute, Malaysia has ranked second last (47th out of 48 Countries) in terms of climate resilience. This is mainly due to a lack of climate-resilient infrastructure and effective warning and evacuation systems. The report also mentioned a baseline scenario of 2 - 2.6 degrees Celsius temperature rise, where emerging economies in hotter regions as well as oil producers would be majorly affected by rising temperatures over time. On the role of public institutions, the federal government may allocate funding to conduct Research and Development (R&D) in the areas of climate change adaptation with state governments and local authorities.